Would you really want to be in Thomas Bjorn’s size 10 shoes right now? I reckon not because the Dane has been left with a frightfully difficult task tomorrow when he comes to announcing his four Ryder Cup wildcards and that means disappointment is beckoning for at least one contender.
In attempting to predict the picks Bjorn – helped, of course, by input from his five vice-captains – will unveil live on Sky Sports, it is important to highlight straight away that the eight automatic qualifiers include five Ryder Cup rookies, namely Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Jon Rahm, Alex Noren and Thorbjorn Olesen.
As newcomers go, that’s a pretty useful quintet, having amassed a total of 17 victories between them since the Americans triumphed at Hazeltine just under two years ago, but this, remember, is the Ryder Cup we are talking about and only time will tell how they will perform in its unique atmosphere.
Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy and Francesco Molinari, the three others to make the team under their own steam, all have past experience in the event and perhaps the biggest question Bjorn now has to answer is whether or not he can afford a sixth rookie. If so, then one of those spots will be going to Matt Wallace because, boy, did the Englishman make a statement in making seven birdies in eight holes to win the Made in Denmark, the final qualifying event, on Sunday at Bjorn’s home club.
His third victory of the season, that feat alone isn’t enough to say that Wallace deserves the nod but, using Stephen Gallacher and Thomas Pieters as examples in 2014 and 2016 respectively, strong performances by European players on European soil have been recognised in the past and could well prove a big factor in the final reckoning once again.
Up until Sunday, three of those wildcards looked certainties to me and, even now, I feel quite confident that Henrik Stenson, Ian Poulter and Paul Casey would be correct choices as Bjorn bids to strike the right balance in his team. Assuming he’s not worried about an elbow injury that has hampered him a bit this season, Stenson is a stick on and Poulter, too, for my money on this occasion.
Not necessarily, I hasten to add, for how he has played in this match in the past, notably, of course, at Medinah six years ago, but more on the strength of his form overall in the past year or so. Apart from a missed cut in the Open Championship, the Englishman has been extremely consistent since winning the Houston Open in March and deserves a pick, as, of course, was the case for Gleneagles four years ago.
As for Casey, it has been a decade since he last played in a Ryder Cup, but you had a feeling that Bjorn had a plan in mind when he welcomed the Englishman back into the fold in the EurAsia Cup at the start of the year and some strong performances since then, including a win in the Valspar Championship, suggest nothing has changed in that respect.
Which leaves the toughest task of all: putting a case for an out-of-form Garcia ahead of Wallace, in particular, but also Pieters, Rafa Cabrera Bello and, of course, Russell Knox. There can be no denying that, based on results alone this year, Garcia probably shouldn’t be in the equation, though, having said that, one of his best performances was actually at Le Golf National, venue for the Ryder Cup, as he finished eighth in the French Open in July.
The Spaniard didn’t qualify for the FedEx Cup Play-Offs, leaving him starved of competitive action at an inopportune time, but a Ryder Cup could provide that missing spark and, let’s be honest here, Garcia has a presence, both on the golf course and in a team room, that can’t be dismissed lightly. In fact, it would be foolish to do so.
I think Garcia was the “one little doubt in my head” that Bjorn referred to on Sunday before Wallace then threw his late spanner in the works, giving the European more of a dilemma than his United States counterpart, Jim Furyk, faces as he prepares to announce three of his four selections today.
On-form Bryson DeChambeau has definitely nailed down one of those, as has a rejuvenated Tiger Woods, with Phil Mickelson, while maybe not firing all cylinders, also looking set to get the nod. That would leave players such as Xander Schauffele, Matt Kuchar, Kevin Kisner and Tony Finau fighting it out for the last spot in the BMW Championship this week with Furyk not completing his line-up until next Monday.
In the meantime, it’s over to you, Thomas Bjorn.